Monday, April 25, 2022

An afternoon with the Fujifilm Instax Mini Evo


(Shots from camera)

Several weeks ago, I was thinking of upgrading my Panasonic LX7 (2012!!!) to something more modern for an upcoming trip to europe, but after checking out the prices of modern point and shoots, I really couldn't justify the asking price - I rarely do photography these days unless I'm travelling, and my day to day photo needs are mostly sorted with my phone's camera. 

I then though perhaps I should bring a "fun" camera instead to capture moments with friends and ex-colleagues, and decided hey, why not a polaroid camera?!

And after looking up various instant cameras, I landed on this, the Instax Mini Evo. Let me share my experience using it today.

First, this camera is just under 300cad (with tax, including a 10 pack of "film"). Pretty no frills packaging (thank you Fuji!), USB cable, manual, strap and camera. I wish they would have included a screen protector and a lens cap though. Charging is done by an archaic micro usb connector, and supposedly only takes several hours to fully charge the built-in battery.

Now Fuji sells several type of Instax cameras, "analog" camera where the instant film is exposed using the lens, and "hybrids" like the evo, which is a fusion of a digital camera and instant film printer. I choose the later as I liked the idea of printing only those shots that looked good, and being a digital camera I could have a digital copy to backup. 

One of the main gimmicks of this toy is the 10 "lenses" and 10 "film looks" you can choose while out shooting. The lenses give you effects such as fisheye, double exposure, soft focus, vignetting etc. The film looks give you tonal changes like more vivid colours, sepia, monochrome, or retro tones. 

My impressions using the camera to take photos are actually quite poor:
  • The screen is barely visible in daylight.
  • Can't really tell if things are in focus on the screen.
  • Deleting a photo was a multi step process, and the delete photo functionality was shared with the "delete all" functionality. 
  • No grip, I found it pretty fiddly to shoot with.
  • UI operates in portrait mode, and generally not the most intuitive control scheme.
  • Saving a photo takes several seconds (this was with the built-in memory)
Other complaints I have about it, but it's stupid to complain about, given the camera's price point:
  • Only one autofocus point
  • No hot shoe
  • Tripod mount, which I probably won't use, is made of plastic
  • Faux leather is really just plastic
  • Camera's light weight makes it feel cheap
  • Built-in battery
  • No image stabilization
  • Does not record stereo 8k raw video
After a few hours out in Vancouver, I was like... am I wasting money on this toy camera? 

Spoiler: No.

Once I got home, I loaded up the "film", and proceeded to print my first shot. The gimmick with this camera is that what looks like a film advance lever on the body, engages the printing. Which is unbelievably tactile. 
(Shot using my phone, printed using the Evo through the app)

The first picture looked like crap after the first few seconds, and I was like.... damn, this is a waste of money. What is this low contrast BS. But no, it was me being too rushed. After a minute or so, the blacks fully sat in, and the colours saturated to their limit. I was pretty blown away. It looked really good! I printed a few more shots and I think I will not be bringing my lx7 on my trip.

My phone probably takes technically better photos, but having a printed photo in just minutes is just magical. Another reason I choose this camera over the analog instax is the focal length of the lens - this baby is 28mm. A bit wider than I'd like - 40mm for street shooting please - compared to 60mm on say, the Instax Mini 11 which is much longer than I'd like. 28mm is what I used to use on my Ricoh GR1, a pretty difficult focal length to use - you definitely want to be up close with your subject to fill the frame. But it's super rewarding to get the shot. (The 60mm lens is actually 35mm equivalent. A much better daily lens imo)

The camera also comes with an accompanying app that allows you to send photos from your phone to be printed. The details and dynamic range of the photos printed this way are better, though you'll need to apply any fun effects beforehand as I didn't see any on the app.

I'm really looking forward to using this camera with my friends - usually it takes me weeks before anyone gets pictures from me as I don't have a computer to process raws. This evo makes giving a physical gift of a photograph possibly in minutes, and I can't wait to see how it works out in a few weeks.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Upgraded to a Lian Li Lancool II Mesh from a Fractal Design Meshify C

I recently upgraded to an Asus Strix OC 3080TI and the temperatures on these gddr6x vram chips are through the roof. In my old Meshify C case, I was pretty dismayed to see temperatures close to 100C (!!!), though with some undervolting with afterburner, managed to bring it down to the high 80Cs. 

The rest of the week was spent trying to cool it down, and I got a bunch of Noctua A15s and A12s to add into the case but it only helped drop the temperature by a degree or two. Annoying. Leaving the side of the case open though, worked marvelously, dropping the temperatures into the mid 70s (!!!). It was around here I decided to get a new case as what airflow there was in the case was not suitable for the amount of heat put out by this gpu (350w?!)

Some quick research on Gamer's Nexus gave me a few cases with max airflow, and decided to go with the Lian Li Lancool II Mesh Pro, purely as I liked the aesthetics best even though it was not the top contender. It comes in another variant with rgb fans if that's something that picks your fancy.

With the new case, temperatures dropped significantly - at full load, the gpu's vram is running in the mid 70s (woooot) and the gpu itself in the low 50s. Pretty sweet! 

Between the two cases, I have a few things to observe:

  • Airflow: It is night and day, a 20 degrees drop in temperature is solid. On the flip side, the Lancool case is going to have a lot more dust buildup as it does not have a filter on the front of the casing, especially since I installed an additional 120mm fan on top of the two existing 140mm intake fans, and another 140mm exhaust fan on the top. That's the price to pay for having a case keep its innards much cooler.
  • Quality: I would say these two cases are very similar, with the Meshify C being slightly in the lead. The edges of the metal are smooth to the touch, and everything pretty much fit perfectly together. I do prefer Fractal's thumbscrews, the screws on the lancool II have this soft padding that should help protect the contact surfaces from any scratches, but those on my case tore apart really easy.
  • Attention to detail: I would have to say Fractal has the edge here. For example, the screws provided with the Meshify C to secure the motherboard are chunky and easy to use. The ones included with the lancool case look like some generic m3 screw that looked really easy to have the head stripped. If I'm being nitpicky, I'd say Fractal has a better box, better manual etc.
  • Ease of build: Lancool II easy. But it's also a much larger case. For example, the power supply has lots of empty area around it for airflow, and with the longer case, lots more space to route wires around. The right side of the case is also mesh, to aid airflow. There is even space available to mount two 120mm fans on top of the psu should I desire. Cable management, once again it being a bigger case, was superb, with lots of well placed openings as well as loops for zipties, velcro straps etc to hold the cables in place. 
  • Looks: For me, definitely Fractal Design. Those are cool cases, and their new Torrent case looks like a scaled down piece of modern architecture. Sadly, I couldn't find any Torrents in stock where I live else I'd likely have that.
Other interesting details on the Lancool 2 was a built-in fan hub, I've never had one before and I was somewhat reticent about using it. But it's actually pretty good - all the fans bar the cpu fans (2x140mm on a Noctua D15) are hooked up to it, and it keeps the mess of fan wiring from going all over the board. What's more, the fan hub has a switch on the top of the case that allows you 3 preset fan speeds (low, med, max), with a last option to allow the board to control the fans. For me, I left the preset at max speed. While very slightly audible, I have no issues sleeping just about 3 meters away from it. 

The only thing I dislike about the case is the combo stereo jack on the front - I'm using a modmic paired with an el-cheap logitec headset so it has two plugs. I can't use my modmic as I don't have the proper cabling to combine the two mic/headset plugs into a single combo stereo plug. The fractal case however, does come with separate headset/mic sockets.

I hope you enjoyed this terrible writeup, as I just wanted to write something before bed. Good night!

Monday, August 02, 2021

Used car buying is a pain

The last month and a half I've been on the lookout for a used car to explore the BC interior, and with the covid restrictions on travel to adjacent regions lifted, the itch to explore as been pretty bad. Now the last car I had was a convertible, so this time I want to experience life with a coupe/sedan. But not just any car will do, I have needs (tm) - it must be 

  • Rear wheel drive, or awd with rear bias. Non negotiable.
  • Front double wishbone - ideally. Strut front is fine, bloody porsches are struts on the front.
  • Sunroof - non negotiable.
  • White or Yellow exterior - I would like to say this is non negotiable but waiting for either of these to pop up for the specs I want is excruciating.
  • Not fussed with interior colours so long as it matches the exterior.
  • Manual transmission - ideally.
The car that easily matches my requirements is the E82 128i. These are old cars (08-12), but in my tests these cars pull (230HP on a 1.4 ton car is pretty damned good) just perfect for road use, and the handling is pretty solid. It is still a pretty big and heavy car so you do feel it but I'm looking for more of a gt/cruising experience, so in my opinion its perfect. The width of the car is also excellent, only four centimeters wider than my NC MX5, and it is a pleasure to drive in the city, and really easy to parallel park. 

A newer version of the 128i, the F22 228i was also on the board, but ultimately I decided I was too cheap to afford the high insurance on the car. But I did test drive it and I would say, if I could justify the car, this would be my go to. For a start, the interior of the car, while feeling a bit on the cheaper side, is just perfect for a drivers car. No extra technology required. The variant I tested was awd, with a rear bias. Handling unfortunately was the numb electric power steering, but on the highways it was easy to handle, and in low speed corners, the relatively narrow body (7cm wider than my mx5) made for easy threading of the city streets. 

One thing I found really interesting on the 228i was its "mild hybrid" technology. Unlike a proper hybrid, the mild hybrid tech uses the alternator of the car to recover energy while braking into a 48v battery that would be used to power the air conditioning and other electrical functions. Very cool!

Now BMWs are known to be "unreliable" so more reliable options were on the board - primarily the second generation IS250 cars from Lexus. Videos abound on how crazy reliable the IS250s are, and from what I see, apart from wearables, is the engine being a direct injection, thus liable for carbon buildup on the valves needing a walnut blast every hundred thousand or so kms (i guess?!). Later models apparently sorted it out. 

Next up.... er... not much choice really. The brz/frs have no sunroof options, so they are out. And personally from the one I've taken out on occasion, the ride is a bit harsher than I'd like. Genesis coupe? I don't know enough about the car, and from the specs its really heavy. Infinity? Again, I never really got into Nissan's upmarket brand and their cars don't appeal to me. Honda's only two rear/awd cars, the S2k and NSX are too old and not appealing to me for the former, and the later obviously not affordable.

On the german front, the affordable audis never appealed to me (FWD platforms, I mean, they are volkswagen based, aren't they?), and the R8 is obviously not affordable to a mere slave worker. Porsches... now that's a car I would like. These supposedly have amazing handling, together with a ride that is not too harsh. Sounds perfect for me. Unfortunately these hold their values amazingly well, and I think I'll put them off until I'm more settled in life. For example, what I'd pay for a 2012 128i, would pay for a late 90s to early 2000s boxster. Some check on mechanic prices on porsches and I'm like.. nope nope nope. These are supposed to be reliable cars though.

I also did look into other interesting cars that I could not afford or found really cool:
  • CT200h - very cool upmarket prius. If I had to daily drive a car, this would be the one. It's FWD, with a CVT though but it is quite the looker, especially the f sport variant.
  • M4 Cabrio. Just looks bloody sleek. Price wise and size wise it's a nah for me.
  • 3rd Gen IS250/350 - Looks damned cool and hits all the above boxes but in reality it's too much car for a single person. Its pretty damned big in person!
  • ND MX5 - Too compromised for my taste. Bit tight, 12v socket is in a terrible position, no glovebox. Lovely to rent out for drives though!
  • Supra - I have zero interest in this car from an ownership perspective, but it does look good and from reviews the handling seems pretty damned good!
  • C300. MB is unfortunately a brand I never really cared about, though I do find the C300's interior simply sublime, especially with the panoramic roof.
  • LC500 - I consider this the best looking current car. It is a chonker though, too big for me.
  • F Type - prices of the F type appear to have ballooned during covid. 
  • 350z Convertible - I saw one on the road, it was a darkish silver backlit against the evening sun. I was like... man that looks good I want one. IRL nah. 
So with the list set out, I went on the hunt for cars. With the 128i as my top choice, I went to see several cars, all were duds:
- "Mint condition" pain bubbles on fender, dents - obviously been in accident.
- "Some Paint chips" - fucking clear coat was falling off

After these two 128is, a perfect is250 popped up, I checked it out and it looked really good. However, while the owner claimed the car had no accidents, I ran a carfax and it had over twenty grand worth of damage. One tell sign was the headlights, one of them was badly yellowed, but the other was clear and new. I read that could indicate car was in an accident, and had to have a headlight replaced.

Bailed on that one. Waited a week or so and another 128i popped up.

- "Well loved car" - this one has a short story. Car was located about 2hrs+ away from me, and seller had agreed to let me test drive it and take it for a PPI (Pre Purchase Inspection - always do a ppi ppl!). When I arrived, they were all smiles telling me to take the car for a drive. I was like... hold on, let me check the car out from the outside and stuff. Car drove fine, but the brakes were extremely sketchy, and midway through the drive, told me sorry, if you want the car, you buy it now no inspections, we got people in line for it. 

I walked away. Car is still being advertised lol.

This brings me to yesterday. Another 128i exactly matching the specs I wanted, manual to boot. Lots of servicing records on the carfax. Dude refused to budge on price, and also willing to let me take it for a PPI. Only "issues" was the car is located on an island hours away. But you know what, a manual 128i that has been well maintained? I'm willing to travel the distance.

Arrived after a short flight and checked out the car. Visually, it looked good, paint in near perfect condition, and drives really well, electronics inside all work. So I took it to the dealership for a PPI, which is not cheap (300cad with tax!) and oh my god the engine required 3 seals replaced. I also knew from the age of the car, it would need the water pump done just in case, and clutch (and possibly flywheel) replacement was on the boards. With all that added up, I could have added a grand or two and bought a 2014 fsport is350. I backed out of that one.

The return trip was.... long. Took me close to 6hrs with a combination of buses, one ferry and the skytrain. Sigh. Flight in was 270cad, and return ferry/bus/train was 20 odd dollars. 

At this point in time I'm debating just getting a mazda 3 and calling it done. But there is nothing like attacking the corners of the BC interior in a rear drive vehicle, and I may just get another convertible just so I can go drive. I'm gonna take a break from this car search for the next few days and hopefully figure out what to look for next.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Titanfall 2: A non-gamer review

When the Titanfall series was released, I thought it was a brilliant concept - a first person shooter that allows you to pair up with mechs on the battlefield. I didn't have a PC back then, but with my new sim rig (and steam sales) I was finally able to get my hand on this game.

After clocking in about 70hrs so far on it, I'm wondering why this game isn't more popular. The movement of the player (the "Pilot") is extremely freeing. If you are familiar with Attack On Titan where the protagonists strap on movement gear, allowing them to prance around in mid-air and attack from unexpected angles - when I play Titanfall 2 as a pilot, that's the kind of feeling I get. 

Unlike more traditional fps games, it's possible to jump onto walls, run along them. You can also bunny hop, slide on the ground, use the suit's thrusters to double jump or perform what the TF community calls "air strafing". There is also an option to equip a grappling hook to pull yourself into nearly every object in game. There is also a gravity grenade designed to suck up nearby enemy units before exploding, and it can be used to boost your speed too. It's possible to chain these techniques to traverse the finely designed terrain, and never really touch the ground if you so choose to. 

I think words do not adequately explain how amazing and freeing this system is, and I've only mastered maybe a 3rd of it. Watching the really good players move around, I'm like "......" This video below demonstrates how deep the movement system is in Titanfall 2. At best, I can chain stuff up to around the 2 minute mark, but beyond that, I'll need alot more practice to perfect my slide hopping.

And that's just the player's movement. There are multiple kinds of playstyles, from the grapple hook mentioned above, to more stealthy gameplay, or even phase into another dimension and pop back in behind enemy lines. Then there are the weapons, and oh boy they are a doozy. Each weapon is unique, and there are mods for each of them tailored to your wants. Don't want to alert enemies to your presence? Equip a silencer. Want to zoom in quicker? There's a mod for that. I started out with no idea what weapons were good for what, but found most of them really fun. 

Next, the titular titans. I mainly play Frontier Defense mutiplayer, which is PVE - a group of up to four pilots defending a "Harvester" from incoming enemy waves. To me, this is sort of a Tower Defense kind of game, where enemies of different sizes and movement types invade from different lanes, and we need to stop them from destroying our harvester. In between waves, we can use the shop to purchase repairs for our Titan, as well as stuff like Turrets, mines that stun the enemy, or a shield boost for the harvester.

The 7 titans in the game play extremely differently, and when I started out I found it really difficult to figure out exactly what each titan does. For example, one of the two tank titans, Legion, is equipped with a massive minigun and can activate a shield on the barrel of the gun. With that, I was expecting to simply pop the shield and walk right into the masses of enemies to take them on.

No, not really lol.

For this titan, keeping away was key, in order to be able to duck into cover and reload its magazine. It took me days of play to figure out why I was dying so quickly, while other Legion players would be taking down enemies like nobody's business yet survive the entire 5 waves with nary a scratch. It dawned on me that I had to keep to a very specific range to be able to minimise damage taken, reload in cover while being in the perfect range to deal maximum damage. 

On the flip side there is perhaps one of the most hilarious titans in the game, Ronin. It's a bloody robot with a sword that is almost as tall as he is. Ronin needs to be played really aggressively, and when I first started, I had no idea, mostly utilizing his shotgun. Today though, after observing how the good players are playing, I'd rush up to the enemy, using my sword to block their shots (yes, you use the bloody sword to BLOCK BULLETS), use the phasing ability to pass through the enemy, spin around and start to wail on them from behind with your sword. And oh, he has an ability to stun enemy titans, so doing that before wailing on the enemy titans helps :)

On my good days, I'm pretty sure I'm annoying the heck out of my team as I'd be dashing to one end of the map, clearing out an area before they can arrive, then dash off again to the next incoming lines of enemies. While Ronin sounds powerful, he trades speed and movement ability for health, and knowing how to position one self seems to be a critical aspect in this game. Retreating is also a viable strategy, there are times pulling back to group up with another titan team mate and combine abilities is the way to go.

For example, the Tone titan has an ability to drop a Particle Wall, a shield that allows you to shoot through it, but blocks enemy bullets. It's sooo satisfy to be side by sides with her, and shoot enemies that can't hurt us. For those few seconds anyways.

There are 7 titans in this game, and each titan is extremely unique in its playstyle. Every titan I tried out with felt weak and crap, until I figured out exactly how to use them to their potential. On top of how each titan plays differently, each titan has it's own unique titan "kits" that you can choose options from. This again changes how you approach playing that particular titan. This is particularly true with the Monarch titan, where you actually "upgrade" the titan during gameplay. You can setup the titan before the game starts, and you can choose that it's upgrades focus on dealing maximum damage to enemy units with each upgrade, or you can go the combat medic route, and gain improved shield granting abilities to your team. Or, pick and match from the various options have some firepower increase and also heal your teammates. 

On top of all these is the so-called "Aegis" ranks that grant upgrades for your titan the more you play it. Legion for example has an upgrade that allows his barrel shield to charge his shield when taking damage. The more you play the game, more abilities get added, which makes you stronger and adds an incentive to play each titan in order to max them out.

With all that said, I still haven't mentioned each titan having a "core ability". The core ability charges up when you do damage or take damage, and each titan has a unique core ability. Legion for example has a Smart Core that grants you an aim bot and infinite ammo while the core discharges. Ion charges up her Laser Core and releases a searing death-star like laser beam. Scorch slams his fists into the ground, causing a wall of flame to roll forth. 

Ok, can you tell I really like this game? The depth of exploration and feeling of growth tells me how much love and effort has been put in to the design and creation of this title. It boggles my mind why battle royale games are so popular in comparison. But that's a discussion for another day. 

This is about Titanfall 2, where there are both single and multiplayer aspects, so let's start with the single player game.

The single player campaign's story is pretty ho-hum (sorry Respawn), but the way the campaign is presented to you is a masterclass in level design and keeping the player engaged. There are new ideas and concepts introduced in every campaign level, and the Vanguard titan you pilot, named BT7472, keeps getting new configurations ever so often, keeping things fresh. Some of these configurations are from the multiplayer-only titans, so I wonder exactly how BT keeps all their weapons on him lol.

During my first run of the game, I didn't really understood how I should have used these new configurations, and I found myself reverting to the original config in crucial situations. When I ran it again recently - armed with knowledge of how to play the multiplayer titans - it was a blast to be able to immediately know how to change my playstyle to adapt to the new configuration and use that to take out the opponents.

Multiplayer is where this game shines, but sadly for PVP games my control of my mouse is pretty crap for pin-point shooting, and I'm usually at the bottom of the leaderboard in PVP situations. That said, in the few times that I've played the Attrition mode, the battleground feels really alive. You are not only fighting with your titan against other player pilots and titans, the are lots of AI troops on both sides, from soldiers to reapers - automatons half the size of a titan that do alot of damage! I never felt I was cornered or hunted down by another player when I'm backed up by AI troops alongside my team mates. 

I love the fact that as a pilot I was much more maneuverable than the titans, and I can try to come up behind them and fire off my anti-titan weapon, or, the best part, *climb* on top an enemy titan and pull out their battery, causing them to lose a massive amount of hitpoints - or death, if their HPs were already low. On the flip side, inside a titan you feel very powerful with all the weapon systems at your fingertips. The additional height makes sighting enemy units much more easier, and you can now grind ground troops to bits under your feet. The downside is that you're now a much bigger target that's less agile and can only traverse specific areas of terrain. This contrast in gameplay makes the game really dynamic; the titan is no longer an "end game" scenario, but simply a part of the game. You build one up, you might lose it, then you fight on foot till you get one back. 

If I was more skilled I'd think I might play more PVP, but I'm already enjoying myself so much with Frontier Defense. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Monster Hunter World: Got a refund after an hour.

With the steam sales, Monster Hunter World was available at a really good price, and thought I'd get it. Unfortunately, I realized how much of the game was just standing out to me in a negative way, and I just stopped at about the hour mark and got a refund.

First, there was no way to invert the mouse Y axis during the tutorial. There was no combat or anything, just running away with the WASD keys, so that was fine, but I can't believe the options menu was not available till I arrived on the island. That wasn't a good start.

Next, movement. Maybe I'm being overly harsh here, but the feet of my character was slipping all over the ground when walking. What the hell. This is a modern video game, surely foot locking is not a difficult thing to do? I'm extremely sensitive to this as I've been working on crowd systems in houdini, and slipping feet simply takes away a massive part of the realism. With a 3rd person perspective where my character is right up against the lower third of the screen, I thought this was rather offputting, and also pretty interesting as I've watched gameplay demos before buying it, and I did not feel any issue then. To be fair, I did not notice it much during the first portion of the game that was set in a forest. It was when I hit the city that it was bloody apparent and took a lot of the immersiveness out.

Next, there was a part during the tutorial where my NPC companion and I were hunted and surrounded by massive lizards at least 3 times my body weight. This was the part of the game where the tutorial teaches you how to hide from them. But here's the thing. We're two people, with no weapons, surrounded by a dozen lizards. Keyword here: SURROUNDED.

My companion shouts out at me to run towards a big bush, and to hold down spacebar to be quiet and hide.

I ran the wrong way and....

Nothing happened. Bloody lizards appeared to be out there to soak in the sunshine.

NPC continued to get me to move over to them, and the lizards did not seem to hear anything. Ok, so maybe they're er... deaf?

But then I ran over to the bush, THROUGH A DOZEN LIZARDS, and there was zero reaction. Next, I then crouched down in a bush that will never, ever be able to hide two fully grown humans, and the bloody lizards seemed to go: "Oh noes, where have the humans gone? We can't see them. Let's go home now."

Jarring. Just jarring. This totally broke my immersion of the game. Giant lizards hunting us, stopped doing so just so we can hide in a bush?! No sense of smell? Terrible eyesight? Hard of hearing? That's BS. A better way could have been designed to teach us this mechanic, perhaps running from bush to bush and hiding to avoid roving lizards. Sigh. Sorry, this part really stuck out to me, and that was barely a few minutes into the tutorial.

What pushed me over was when I started on the weapons tutorials. There are a massive amount of playstyles in MHW, from aerial weapons to bow weapons, swords and shields to transforming weapons. But the four-five I tried just felt meh. Some of the weapons actually felt too heavy, too impactful for what they were. Shocking. Also, the controls were probably optimized for console - blocking with my shield was an odd button on my mouse, mouse 4. Remapping it messed up some camera controls, and I just gave up and ran with the defaults as I wasn't in the mood to go through the menu system, something I found really unintuitive.

It was about then I said I'm done with this and got a refund. It's a pity I got affected by these things that most people probably don't care about. The models and environment look amazing, and the attention to detail on the characters is just fantastic.

I'm really curious about the lore too, are the cats slaves? Why are they helping humans? Like, I only saw one cat in the "council" meeting. The human:cat ratio seemed really uneven. Ah... well I'm not gonna go down that road. Next game, I hope I won't be that picky. Ha!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Houdini + Redshift 3950x PC build - choices and problems

I've never wanted to own a desktop PC again. Unfortunately, I messed up the bios of my desktop replacement (9900k, 2070, 128gb) and I needed a machine to get a project done. It was either a) Buy a similar desktop replacement, or, for more or less the same price, get an even more kick arse desktop PC.

I waffled for a few days between those choices - I'm trying to keep the amount of stuff I own to a minimum, and hoped that the laptop would be fixed in time. But that's unlikely with covid, and I went with the desktop route as the new amd chips really intrigued me.

Now, a bit of background, I do vfx for film, and recently quit my job to pursue freelance opportunities because reasons. When I still had a job with a big vfx production house, I'm pretty much used to a multi cpu xeon machine with at least 128gb of ram, and a quadro for my display. There is no way to justify one of these at this point in time. But the last few years, AMD's threadripper cpus have been popping up all over my feed, and I was like, yeah, let's go check out those chips.

The pricing of the current threadrippers simply blew my mind. Yeah, no. 1.9k cad - 5.4k cad for a cpu? I've seen many vfx freelancers with them, but until I can get to where they are, I'm going to stick with something I can justify. I went with the next step down, the top of the line Ryzen 9 cpu. Let me get the built list up before I start on the choices I made, and where I went "wrong".

  • AMD 3950x
  • Gigabyte Aorus Elite X570 Wifi
  • 2x32GB HyperX Kingston ram 3600Mhz DDR4
  • EVGA 750 G2 PSU
  • Gigabyte 2060 Super Gaming OC
  • Fractal Design Meshify C
  • Noctua D15 cpu cooler
  • 2x WD Black 500GB NVME
  • Asus PA248QV
First up: I am NOT a system builder, and I am not in touch with the latest tech things happening! The last PC I built was a pentium 3 in the early 2000s. Ever since I've started this vfx life, I have had no need for a powerful machine since that's what work would provide. 

For the cpu it was pretty easy to select, Threadripper was out. At least the newer 39xx series. No way to justify the cost of the cpu, and the mainboards were pretty expensive as well. I _might_ have dropped the cash on a Threadripper system if my rendering solution was purely cpu (e.g., Mantra, PRman, Arnold), but based on what I've been doing at home, I enjoyed the workflow of using Redshift as my primary renderer for its speed of feedback. I'm hoping Arnold GPU will make some big strides, as I think of all the renderers I've dabbled with, I found Arnold the easiest to get a nice image with, and the shaders are the most intuitive to me. 

So, Ryzen 9 then. I waffled between the 3950x and 3900x; most of the time it was unlikely I'd be using all the cores all the time, and the 3900x has much better single core speed. Especially when rendering, redshift does not seem to use more than one cpu core when rendering on a single gpu. Given as I'm probably going to be working on fluids and volumetrics for a fair bunch, and these are relatively well multi-threaded, I decided to place my bets on the 3950x with its additional cores.

For the motherboard, I was pretty limited to what I can get here in Vancouver (time constraints), so I basically filtered it by X570 boards that can a) support 128gb of ram b) at least two pcie slots c) wifi onboard as I ain't not using no cat 5 cable if I can help it!

The Aorus Elite X570 Wifi seemed to fit the bill, and it didn't seem to be a bling fest of leds, so I went with that. More on that in the gpu section.

Ram: I didn't really have much choice. For 2x32gb dimms, my choices were Kingston, Crucial or G.Skill. I have no idea what G.Skill was, and it was a tossup between Kingston or Crucial. The Kingston blurb on the online shops mentioned "Ready for AMD Ryzen" so, I went with those.

The 750W PSU seemed like a good choice, I used 200W for the 2950x (power usage figures jump all over the place on review sites; I took the upper limit) and another 200 for the 2060 Super. Lots of overhead for peripherals and future expansion. 

Now the GPU might surprise you. If I'm running redshift, shouldn't I be running something faster? Indeed! However with the 3000 series nvidia cards coming up in the next quarter, I thought I'd rather wait it out, and render using an online service if I needed fast turnaround. 

This is where it kinda breaks down. I was hoping to start with the 2060, then tack on a 3000 series when they arrive. Unfortunately, I read the blurb on gigabyte's site incorrectly, and thought both slots were x16 pcie. Wrong! Only one pcie slot had the 16 lanes, the second slot only was a 4 lane slot, though it was a x16 connector. Blargh. So, that kind of ruins my plans for running two cards.

What I really should have looked for, was a motherboard that would support nvidia SLI, these would support two gpus no problems. Oh well, live and learn. 

Finally, storage. This, I did not figure out a good solution yet. My current plan is to have one nvme to be my primary boot drive with all applications on it. The second nvme drive as a "work drive" for the current project I'm working on. The read/write speeds would really help with simulation caches. 

500gb is fine, perhaps even overkill for the application drive. 500gb might be a joke for the work drive. I've occasionally had caches in the terabyte range when dealing with large, detailed simulations, especially when storing multiple revisions of simulations. Given I doubt I'll get one of those in the near future, I thought a 500gb drive for my current project will be enough, then I can dump the data onto a 2.5in for backup when the project is done.

If I do need to get a large working drive for simulations though, I think I will probably get a SSHD drive, perhaps two in raid1 configuration for data security. 

As a side note, my thoughts on storage above are on top of how I'm planning to store data on disk. A feature film is broken down into sequences, and each sequence is broken down into a series of shots. While I'm not going to be working on a whole sequence on my own, I still do need a way to store assets in a manner that is easy to recover and work on, not haphazardly stored across folders over multiple disks. That's in the pipeline to develop soon.

So, at the time of this writing the machine has booted up fine with windows 10 installed (its a miracle!). I've got the latest drivers, installed houdini, redshift, as well as resolve and fusion studio. ocio has been installed, and I've moved all my hdrs and assets from the laptop's work drive to the nvme work drive. 

Thoughts on the build:
Pretty smooth. The Fractal Design meshify C is amazing to work with. Pretty lightweight, and the quality is top notch. Manual is pretty good. The D15 notua cooler also went on the motherboard easily. All in all it was a very easy pc to build. 

I've done limited tests on it so far, but after I got the drivers installed, I turned on the ram's XMP profile to 3600Mhz, so far so good. I did some benchmarking using Cinebench R20, and the results came in at 92xx, which was 200 less than the comparison machine. Wasn't too keen to overclock but I remember reading something about pbo - precision boost overdrive. Some kind of automatic overclocking thing. I just set that to auto and hey, presto! R20 hit 94xx no drama. Ran a few minutes of prime95 and it seems good.

The temperatures with all cores running on R20 was in the 61-62C range, but when I turned on pbo it jumped to the 70+ range. It seems like that's still a good temperature to be at, so I'll leave it there for now. Plus, during simulations, the cores are not pegged permanently at 100%, for example with volume simulations, certain stages are only single threaded, so there will be periods of calm amid 100% cpu utilization spikes.

In terms of noise, I'm pleased by how quiet this system is. My desktop replacement is a banshee screamer, the fans engaging pretty loudly for any task more than reading an email. Not this PC. With all cores running at 100% whilst running an extended R20 session, it's audible only if I really try to listen to it. If I have any audio playing, it's basically covered up. Heck even the fan across the room from me is louder. 

For the GPU, it too hit 70-ish degrees under redshift render, and the fans are barely audible. 

Finally, for the monitor, I found the Asus PA248QV. 24 inches across is a good size, and I choose it because it supposedly supports the Rec709 colour space. Now, I'm no colourist and only know enough to get textures into the right colour space for rendering, when to apply view luts. What I was impressed that there was a calman calibration certificate in the box. I was like... whuuuuut. Omg how is this monitor only 200 odd bucks!? 

Only used it for a few hours, it's pretty solid. No glare, and I'm using a Rec709 profile. I really appreciate the proper working resolution of 1920x1200 that houdini needs. I still need to plug in one of those portable display monitors I was using with my laptops. 

I'll need to do some comparison sims between this an my desktop replacement - when it gets back. But based on what I've seen in benchmarks, this pc will likely wipe the floor with the 9900k for multi threaded simulations. That said, the 9900k's single threaded performance at 5ghz+ is nothing to sneeze at; lots of Houdini's nodes are still single threaded. For specific workloads, the i9 could prove to be a better performer. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

NC vs ND MX5

It's been a long time since I've updated this blog - things have been pretty good but I just left my job at Sony a few weeks ago for a change of pace. I'm a bit sick of Vancouver... not gonna go into detail on a public blog but let's just say I'll probably be single for a good long while. I needed change, and put in my resignation early this year.

With the resignation, I'd planned to move somewhere with a lower cost of living, then bam. Covid 19 came along. Boo hoo hoo. Given that I can't really drive anywhere fun with the restrictions in place, I wasn't going to be paying 400 a month on insurance on my NC (N driver lyfe), and the money from the car can be used to pay rent for over a year. Easy choice, though the first few days after selling the car, neighbours could find me staring at the empty parking lot. Thankfully, no one saw me do that.

With Covid 19, two car share companies shut down; Car2Go and Zipcar. I'm really sorry for the folks employed there, I hope you all found jobs, ideally before the CERB payments run out. I'm going to miss seeing smart 4 twos running around Vancouver. *I* miss taking them out for shit and giggles.

Thankfully, Modo is still kicking and alive, and I've been mostly driving a Prius. Oh god, the more I drive it the more I consider it an appliance. The steering feel is non existent, the engine lethargic, and the worse thing, I can never get the side view mirrors to be adjusted right. It feels like I'm driving a large SUV when I can't accurately tell where I am on the road. I still use it very often, as it's only a few minutes away from where I live, so yay to being a slacker :P

The other cars are similarly quite boring, but the Hyundai Kona EV was a welcome surprise! It's pretty big, but doesn't feel all that huge, and I thought the steering feel was pretty solid for an electric steering rack. It feels pretty nimble as well, and with its EV PAWAH, accelerating off from a stop is actually quite fun. I definitely understand the appeal of EVs after driving it, and also the fact that they are likely only feasible for rich kids that have the ability to charge an EV at home. Ain't no such spots in my apartment!

Today though, I needed a car so I pulled up the Modo app. I came across.... a ND MX5. I was That can't be right. wtf is that car doing on Modo. I needed to pick up some computer parts (building a desktop after almost 2 decades without one wooo) and the prius was in use, and the ND was probably too small to take a case home. But after some waffling I was like... let's just do it. I wanna drive the ND.

First impressions. It's small. Really small. It's such a refreshing car to drive after driving the big ass prius and kona. I had the biggest grin on my face when I put the top down. OH MY GOD. Convertible life again. Unlike the powered hardtop on my NC, the ND's cloth top went up and down in maybe 3-4 seconds. Super easy to operate.

The steering is, unfortunately, electric, and just doesn't have the good feedback of the hydraulic rack on my old car. The steering wheel itself was some kind of slick material, feels like a game controller or one of those smooth phone cases. To be honest, after driving the car for a few minutes, the electric rack didn't bother me at all. The experience of driving a small car coupled with the open air experience is what Miata Life is to me. The quality of the indicator/wiper stalks though, felt really good.

The next thing that I really noticed is how soft the suspension was. Driving on the same roads I've driven upteen times in my NC, the ND is significantly softer. Rougher, less maintained roads felt smoothed over, no longer the bumpy ride on my NC. Even so, I think this car has bloody alot of grip. I took some of my usual corners with gusto, and this car *grips* like nobody's business. I'll bet these are the tires that came with the car too. I was like... damn. The rear end is on rails.

Now many people have mentioned how much body roll there is in the ND, and for the street driving I did I could not feel it, whatever corners I took hard felt fine. And to be sure, when I take corners "hard" it's a joke compared to people who really take corners hard. I've sat in with people driving hard and yeah, when I'm driving "hard" i doubt I'm at even half or a quarter of what they're pushing. I like driving spiritedly, not taking it to the ragged edge of the envelope, especially on the street.

Now I'm assembling a ryzen system, so needed to transport all the parts. The 24in lcd I bought would not fit in the empty boot at all, it had to sit beside me up front. I got a Noctua D15 for my cooler, that took up basically a fifth of the usable space! The boot of my NC was far, far more spacious, there is no chance the camping gear that I jammed into the NC would ever fit in ND. So usability on that end.... yeah not very good.

Speaking of storage, there were no side pockets, no glove compartment, and I had to look up on youtube where to find the 12v plug for my dashcam lol.

One aspect I need to talk about is the transmission. Given Modo is a carshare, the ND was an automatic. It'd likely a base model as well, as it didn't have flappy paddles, only the +- automanual shift on the transmission lever.

For most of the drive I left it in automatic mode, the +- shifts using the transmission lever felt wierd and I didn't want to get distracted by it in traffic. I honestly don't have any complaints with it. Sure, a manual would be more fun, but today's traffic was pretty heavy, and it was nice to just lift off the brake to inch forward.

During some empty stretches where I saw a red light coming up, I did try manually shifting down to engine brake, but it doesn't seem to do all that much compared to my NC. When I shift down on my NC, I can feel a definite slow down. Not on this car, the revs jump up as expected but even on second gear it didn't slow down all that much. Eh, minor detail.

So what do I think about the ND? I think it's a brilliant car, and even better, I get to take it out :) I really want a private vehicle of my own, and I may do that once I get my shit together with life. I've actually been checking out vehicles to buy, cars less than 5k. Just looking, honestly! No way am I paying 3-400 a month for insurance. Cars in that price range I'd like include Smart's 4 two.... but then I realize it's a mercedes and probably cost a bomb to maintain. Similarly with a mini cooper... been eyeing the 2006 Cooper S as they fall in my budget. But icbc insurance and they're bmws. Argh.

An NA MX5 would be a logical "budget" choice for a car. Another one that I'd want... an 80s corolla. Yeah. Boxy, square, boring. But they're iconic in an age where cars look so damned similar. I mean, tear of the bloody stupid fat ass grille of a modern audi. Looks like every other design on the road. BORING. And given I live along a stretch of vancouver where supercars abound (got a few in my apt lol), I'm like meh. Still attracted to the old wedge shaped cars of yesterday, where pop ups abound and manufacturers still dare to experiment. Four wheel steering Prelude, anyone?

Update: 14th June 2020
Took the ND out for a drive up the Sea To Sky highway, and I'm just beyond impressed by how well it handles. It has a ton of grip, and just keeps to the line I choose. The responsiveness of the car is bonkers, must be the super light weight. I also had more time to get a better feel for the transmission. In fully automatic mode on twisty roads, ergh, it is boring AF. The logic just wants to shift to a higher gear, presumably for fuel economy. If you jam the throttle down, sure it downshifts and zooms but you can tell the transmission wants to keep the engine at low revs when you let off.

Now using the manual override is a different story, it shifts really fast, probably faster than what I can do. The engine is surprisingly linear (probably the 2L skyactiv, given we're in canada), I don't remember getting a mild kick around 3.5k like on my NC with the MZR engine. In some sense this makes the ND a bit tamer to me, but from what few pulls I did it is smooth from low all the way high.

One other point. I took the car out in the early evening when it was still light and relatively warm. I had to put the top down. On the way back home though, traffic was getting heavy and I did not care for the open air experience then. The top comes up in barely a few seconds, and latches easily. Did that at a red light with no drama. On my NC with its mechanical hard top, I'd be like. Nope, need 13 seconds.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Summer tires and summer fuel

Swapped over to a set of 215/45R17 Continental ExtremeContact Sports on the MX5 and I can't believe what a difference it makes. The rear end feels far more planted, and the steering response is far sharper. Being this is the first time I'm properly driving on summer tires, ever, its a very welcome surprise.

The amount of grip imparted gives me even more confidence in the high speed corners, and I'm really looking forward to pushing these at the next autocross.  I choose these tires as they appeared to be a good blend between dry/wet performance and their price wasn't too obnoxious. I've driven about 300km with them so far, with most of the mileage clocked up was on boring highways. They do feel much better than the winters on acceleration and braking, and I'm surprised how much more lively the car feels with them.

Now in the twisty corners is where these tires shine. I can take most twisty corners at the speed limit when regular cars have to brake (bad comparison, honestly. roadster vs econobox) and I can feel them really latch on to the road. I could do that in my winters (WinterContact SI) for sure, but I could hear the winters squeal when I push them too hard, and it just doesn't feel as confidence inspiring.

Ride quality wise, I honestly find it tough to say how much better it is compared to the winters. It takes the usual speedbumps I take _perhaps_ a little firmer, but that could be because my winters are on a 16 inch rim versus the summers on a 17 inch.

One final reason why I spent so much cash on new tires is unsprung weight. The Michelin AS3 (no plus) tires that came with the car are supposed to be really good, but they are about four pounds heavier per corner compared to the Conti ECSs. That adds up to a fair bit of unsprung weight on for a lightweight roadster, and they're run flats so... yeah no. Regular tires please. Plus the threads on the ECS looks far more boss XD

Originally, I wanted to get some Dunlop Direzza ZIIIs as they look frakking cool, basically a semi-slick. Unfortunately, they're not commonly available in Canada, and I am not so hardcore as to pick up a set at Point Roberts.

Plus, I've read that these top performance tires are not really good for a newbie autocrosser; their performance can mask the driving errors on the circuit. I've decided that in the off chance that I really get into autocrossing, I'm going to buy some really lightweight wheels (Enkei PF01SS 17x9 perhaps) and RE71s just for that.

Next up, summer fuel prices! I did not know about this an it is absolute bollocks. I used to fill up 91 octane about 1.50/l, but my last top up was 1.73/l, and I've seen some posts online with 91 octane now over 1.80/l! OUCH!

While I'm thankful I don't drive everyday, the amount I drive on weekends probably exceeds most people on the weekday commute lol.

Finally, I had the chance to go on a ride in a Lotus Elise last week. It's a very interesting car for sure! For a start, it's much smaller than I thought, and the passenger seat is actually much more spacious than my NC MX5. I can actually stretch out in the passenger seat of the Elise, while in my MX5, the passenger's footwell is narrow and does not allow me to stretch my legs out. It also has a transmission bump that extends into the passenger footwell! On the flip side, to get a narrow car, the elise is tight. Really tight. The driver and I were shoulder to shoulder in the cabin, and getting into the cabin is far more tedious than I thought it would be.

I was also surprised to be told that the windshield frame is fiberglass, and it could be damaged if I used it as a support for getting in and out of the car. Shocking!

On the road though, the car grips like nobody's business, and that was on Nokian R3 winter tires. I wonder what it'd be like on high performance summer tires. It takes high speed corners very flat, and I felt like it could easily push way above the speed limits if desired. The engine is behind and I honestly didn't think I liked the sound of it that much. It's fun to hear it rev out to nearly 8k rpm but if it's for a long drive I think I would tire of it rapidly. The ride is not as punishing as I thought it would be, but I swapped over to my mx5 after the Elise and immediately I felt like I was in a luxury car lol.

It's not a cheap car either, looking on autotrader, for a used model, it's almost three times what I paid for my mx5. But it is an exotic, and one of the most affordable cars on the road. It's guaranteed to turn heads no matter where you go.

Initially, when I got in the car... I was like... damn, I really should have said fuck it to my bank account and got an Elise for the hell of it. It's a really nice car. But after having sat in it, just the effort and care need to get in... it's one of the cases of "Don't meet your heroes". It takes a hardcore car enthusiast to own one of these, and I'm definitely not an car enthusiast, nor am I a "car guy".

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Short weekend jaunt to Alice Lake and Alexander Falls

I'm having mandatory 6 day work weeks now, so I'm curtailing my longer distance explorations for the time being. This weekend I just drove up to Alice Lake for a short hike. It was a brilliant day, with pretty high temperatures that are more suitable for summer tires. I'm still on my winters till the end of the month, just in case.

The hike around Alice Lake took just over 2 hours, then I headed over for lunch near the Eagle Run Viewing Shelter. In the proper season, eagles can be seen roosting on the trees across the river. None were there, but lunch at the Watershed Grill was pretty good, especially with the views.

After, I visited Alexander Falls. The area around the falls were still frozen, so much so I was wondering if I was in the right area. But no, the maps said I was right where I was supposed to be... it's just that the path to the falls was snowed in. About 10 feet high.

I'm a bit surprised this area was not closed as everything was packed under the snowfall. If you look closely at one of the photos, you'll see how high the snow had covered the outdoor toilet!

Brilliant day out, and I can't wait for summer to properly arrive!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Putting on weight

I've added a few accessories to my MX5 - some seat covers and mudflaps.

 Above: Original Seats
 Above: Eurosport Seat Covers

First, Eurosport Seat Covers from Moss Miata. Given that it's a convertible and exposed to the elements, the covers should keep the original seats in great condition. Installation was a snap, the back seat/headrest is one piece, and slides over easily, and a velcro strip mates the front and rear cloth pieces.

The base cover is connected using two straps under the seat. There are also side flaps that seem to be for the side air bags, but the flaps appear to open to the rear (???). I'm curious how it'll actually work when they really need to deploy lol.

In use, the seat covers do change the feel of the stock cloth seats a little bit, they feel much firmer. They also give the impression that the seats are much sturdier than they are previously, and the knowledge that any wear is going to be on them, not the original seat makes it so much easier to slide into the seat instead of doing the wiggle dance.

Next up, mudflaps!

Given that I'm going to be travelling in areas where the "roads" are basically a gravel path, I thought it would be prudent to get some mudflaps to reduce the effects of rock chips on the paint. The next step will be to apply some transparent vinyl to the rocker panels, front quarter panel and perhaps part of the door.

Previously on the trip up to Lillooet and Cache creek, the kickup patterns are pretty obvious. The mudflaps should reduce this by a great amount.

Can't wait for summer!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Weekend drive to Keremeos

I was waffling about posting here as the trip wasn't very exciting per say, but decided, why not, it's a good way to remember some travels around BC :)

Originally, I wanted to do a drive north to Penticton then loop back via Keremeos, but I had a dinner meetup in the evening and that would take far too long. I decided just a drive to Keremeos and back would suffice :)

I started with a breakfast stop in Abbotsford, then a refueling stop in Hope. I also stocked up on some drinks and food items in case thing went awry. I then drove to Keremeos.

There were several towns of interest that I have to revisit come the summer; Hedley is a tiny township that has a gold mine, and in Princeton I drove past what seemed like a milkshake place.

The roads were pretty clear, not too much traffic, but there several times I drove over patches of ice where I could feel the car travel sideways. Slightly disconcerting but I was white knuckled the first time it happened!

Now, you might ask, why Keremeos? It's a tiny village filled with vineyards and fruit markets. Well, it was just to visit an old shop that used to service Mazdas back in the day, Eunos Automotive.

They used to operate out of North Vancouver, but moved to Keremeos awhile back. I thought it'd be cool to visit their new location just for fun.

I didn't dawdle too long, I had a few snaps, the grabbed lunch nearby at K Mountain Diner.  Just a quick sandwich lunch. One thing about the food outside of Vancouver, is how fresh it is!

With that done, I turned around and headed back for Vancouver. I stopped at Princeton to refuel, as they were the only place I could find with ethenol-free fuel. And yet another stop at Hope for a refuel and bathroom break.

The last leg of the trip I avoided the highway and took the backroads back to coquitlam for a quick diy carwash before heading back to Vancouver.

Overall, yet another brilliant drive. The scenery both ways were amazing, and difficult to share via dashcam footage.

Sadly, work has now started doing mandatory 6 day work weeks, so I only have Sunday left to do any roadtrips. Still, there's lots to explore here and there's the entirety of Washington just two hours south. Till the next post!

Monday, March 04, 2019

First autocross!

A quick short blog as I'm pretty exhausted. Woke up just before 6 for the drive to the airfield, froze my ass off in the middle of the airfield, but what a day.
Unfortunately, not much photos as I was trying to keep up with everything. I arrived just after the gates to the airfield opened, found a parking spot and removed everything from my car and dumped it into a rubbermaid container I bought the day before.

Next, is "tech", where I had my car inspected. Pedals and battery were checked, as were the emptiness of the boot, and tires. Soon after, there was a driver's meeting, and being the first time doing autocross, had a novice meeting. Novices could have experienced drivers tag along for feedback and guidance.

The runs are very short; my first run took 56 seconds. There were three runs, then I parked the car, and went to do track duties. What makes autocross an affordable motorsport is the participation by the drivers when we're not driving - most will be hanging around certain parts of the track (see the numbers in the photo above) to radio back to control if any drivers hit a cone (a time penalty), or goes off the track (Did Not Finish - DNF). They also have to replace any cones hit. They're other duties as well and I'm not certain of what the lot are, so do google it if you're keen!

Once that's done, I have time off while waiting for my next run; it was noon by this time and I drove to a nearby strip mall to get some grub.

Once back, I watched the other cars go around the track, and ops it was soon my turn.

We had five more runs in total, and after that I once again did my track duties. And that was it! Some folks would stay to pack up the track but for most of us who have did our runs and duties, that was it and I left. Got the car cleaned up at a self-serve car wash, then headed home :)

Overall it's really fun. I get to test the maximum potential of my driving "skills" and my car in a safe environment. The flip side is the actual time on the track. In total, I drove for less than 8 minutes for the 7 hours I was there. I do wish I could get more runs in but oh well.

I actually got a gps and RaceChrono to capture my runs, however the gopro decided to die after an hour in the cold (~2c) recording barely 2 minutes of footage. My runs were very, very bad, so I'm not going to bother posting them. I was overdriving the car, and only got better at it in the afternoon runs.

Pretty sure I'm gonna become a regular here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Winter drive up to Lillooet and Cache Creek

I had a brilliant drive over the weekend. Starting from Vancouver, I headed up the Sea To Sky Highway, stopping over at Galileo Coffee Company for a quick rest.
My next stop would be at the Chevron just past Whistler. The roads were piled high with snow on the sides, but the roads themselves were perfectly clear.
Originally, I wanted to head up to Pemberton for lunch, but I was not feeling hungry, and decided to push on to Lillooet. On the way up, I searched for a rest stop to take some photos of the car. There weren't any, but there was a wide open area that I went past the last time that worked just as well.

Duffey Lake Road had very few vehicles on either way. While the roads were clear, they weren't as clean as the roads I travelled on earlier, and the sides of the car took a nice coating of the mud and snow. Now that I know what slush and dirt does to the car, I will be adding some modifications and wraps to deal with that.

Once I hit Lillooet, I had a quick lunch at an A&W, then pushed on to Cache Creek. It was already pretty late, so I didn't dawdle as I didn't want to stay out too late after dark in my tiny roadster. It was dark by the time I reached Hope and refueled at another Chevron - the 94 Octane has no ethanol added, and I _think_ it helps with the fuel economy - I was always keeping the engine in it's power band for hillclimbs, and I still got close to 9/100km for this entire trip, with certain legs averaging 8.13l/100km!!!

At the very end, I went to a car wash to clean the car off, and I detailed it by hand myself on Monday. I had lots of fun in the corners, and saw too many beautiful sights that I wish I could share with you. But all I can offer is the forward view from my dashcam. Can't wait to go on another drive :) 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Pitt Lake and Cultus Lake

 Cultus Lake, BC

Pitt Lake

Going for another run tomorrow and will have to go for a nice car wash after :)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Finally getting good fuel economy :)

8.84l/100km (26.61mpg)! Doing good, doing good! In fact, the mileage should be better as the tires I have on the car are roughly 3% taller than stock.

I did a fair amount of road tripping today; travelled from Vancouver all the way up to Squamish, then decided to do Paradise Valley Road. The road changes from paved to gravel, and I turned around. On the way back though, I found myself a bit confused with the road markings, and went up Squamish Valley Road. It was a brilliant drive along snow covered roadsides, and I shared the road with some locals on horses. Once again, I stopped when the paved road ended* and the gravel trail began.

I called it quits then as I was hungry, so high-tailed it back to a petrol station then went home. While I did flog the engine, it was just to get up to speed on the highway, or when overtaking. If not, I kept the rpms between 2k and 3k, and it felt really good on the road. The sea to sky has a a good balance of hillclimbs and downhill, and it was so much fun rev matching to engine brake downhill.

Miata, you are too much fun :)

* this actually marked the start of Squamish River Forest Service Road

Sunday, February 17, 2019

New Winter Tires and an alignment!

This week I got a set of winter tires for the miata. After much research, I decided to go with Continental Wintercontact SIs for my shoes. Even though I had  a budget set aside for tires.. I've totally blown it as I forgot to include the price of the rims. On top of that, the tire shop charges a fee for installation and balancing, another set of lug nuts and hub centric rings. And there's also a tire disposal fee collected by the provincial government. Ah..... Still, I do want to run my car in winter, so there's that. 

The new tires are much quieter than the Pilot Sport AS3, but I kind of miss the road whine that the AS3s had - they gave me the impression of a supercharger lol. That whine is now gone, and its not missed - the ride is now a bit more refined. The rims, Core Racing 16x6.5 Impulses, were basically the cheapest rims that were of similar weight to the stock alloys. Thinking about it now, these rims are really quite heavy - the stock 17in alloys are about 17 pounds; these 16 inch rims come in at 18 pounds (supposedly - that's what Kal Tire told me, I could not find specs on the web). The WinterContact SI tires are definitely lighter than the AS3s - they're not runflats, and are 205/55R16 vs 225/45R17 for the AS3.

One other thing, the black rim/tire against the white/red car felt like black pools of dense gravity. I felt there needed to be some kind of colour to make the tire pop, so I got a red tire paint pen and picked out some of the text. To clean the tire, I scrubbed it with some steel wool and cleaned the surface with some waterless spray cleaner. After painting the letters, I let it set overnight, then covered it with 303 Aerospace Protectant. It's only day 2, so I'll see how long this lasts! 


Earlier today though, I took it to Aria Auto Services to get some scheduled maintenance done. Did the suggestions in the owner's manual: Engine oil, oil filter, transmission fluid, differential fluid. The power steering fluid was grimy, and the brake fluid had 1% worth of water, so both were changed as well. For the brake fluid, I got some fancy ATE 200 brake fluid that has a higher boiling point as I intend to autocross my miata later this year. It's unlikely my brakes will overheat as a newbie, but I do want to take the best care of my car.

Most of the fluids were replaced with Motul oils, but the transmission fluid I requested for Ford Motorcraft XT-M5-QS. I'm very, very surprised by how good the shifter feels now, I thought it was already pretty solid, but the Ford fluid almost removed the shifter's snickety-snick feel, and shifting into 2nd is oh so smooth now.

After the fluids were done, the guys at the shop then did an alignment of the wheels to bring it back to stock. I can't say the alignment was uber awesome or anything - I drive pretty conservatively in the city and it is unlikely an alignment would be felt. Even so, I wanted to be sure the angles were all in the ballpark.

All in all, the changes to the fluid have miraculously improved my fuel mileage - I didn't see much of a change with the new tires, but the new fluids have bumped my winter fuel mileage to about 12l/100km. I'll be running up the Sea To Sky tomorrow, and I'll see what that brings, but when summer comes around, I think I'll be selling those AS3 tires for some Continental ExtremeContact Sport tires* :)

Zoom zoom!

* In the running: General Tires G-Max RS

Sunday, February 10, 2019

One week with the MX5

So... I'm a proud owner of a new-to-me 2013 NC MX5 Miata :) 6 speed manual transmission with a retractable hard top, and it's the "GS" trim, which comes equipped with bilstein shocks and lsd. The previous owner also did some mods to it, like hid headlights (gonna remove 'em when one of them blows) and the rx8 wiper swap. It also came with Michelin Pilot Sport AS3 tires. These are much wider than stock 205 tires, and run flats at that. I'm haven't yet figured out how heavy these are compared to the stock tires. I'm reading really good reviews for them, but if they're killing my fuel economy they will have to go. Let's start with that.

Fuel Economy
Oh my god it's bad. I always though the stated average of 24mpg ~ 9.8l/100km was reasonable for a convertible, but I'm getting horrendous fuel economy, at 16.6l/100km (14.2mpg). Oh my god. I think it's a combination of winter, bigger heavier tires and my inexperience at driving a manual transmission, and the tendency to rev the engine out. Some forums have mentioned a stuck thermostat causing poor fuel economy, but I'll see how it goes when summer comes around. I also haven't checked the tire pressure, so I hope I figure this out soonish.

10th Feb 2019 - Drove it to Horseshoe Bay this morning, then looped around to the Spanish Banks. It started snowing then, and decided not to push on to a car meet. When I checked the fuel economy, it read 14.8l/100! Yes it's going down! Perhaps sitting for half a year at the dealership messed up the reading. I'm also rapidly improving my clutch control, and figuring out better shift points, so that might have helped.

13th Feb 2019 - Finally got around to filling the tank for the first time! Woot! Cost me 46.65 CAD for 30.9L of 91 octane (OUCH). That was with the gas gauge at about 1/4 tank left. The mpg improved a fair bit as well, it's now at 13.6l/100km, about 17.3mpg. Getting better! I have a gut feeling the horrible economy is caused by crappy fuel used by the dealership.

16th Feb 2019 - Now that I have winter tires, I took the car over Aria Auto Services to get my some scheduled maintenance done. While it's still "early" in terms of mileage, the car is over 6 years old now, and I don't trust the dealership or the previous owner to have maintained it properly. I got the engine oil, oil filter, differential fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid (upgraded to ATE 200 :)) changed, and then got an alignment done. On the way back, the mpg readout quickly jumped to 12.xL/100km, and the best I got on the way back was 11.9l/100km (19.76mpg)!

Pretty sure that all the fluids haven't been maintained. I got Motul fluids but the transmission I requested for Ford XT-M5-QS. I'll detail these in another post.  This is in the cold of winter as well, and pretty much start-stop traffic, only a short stretch on the highway (2-3 minutes?). I'm pretty chuffed to see the improvement.

17th Feb 2019 - Doing 8.84l/100km or 26.61mpg :)

6 Speed Manual Transmission
It's great! Ok, so this is the 2nd manual car I've driven and it's definitely waaaay nicer than the Toyota Echo I learned on. In the week after I bought it, I've been practicing how to more gently take off from a stop, as well as figure out hill starts and parking in reverse... without a camera! All these, in the parking garage. I think the fruits of practice paid off, for today, I set off for my first journey, to buy a set of winter tires! Tires I wanted were out of stock, but I thought I handled the car well. I'm surprised at how many roads I've driven today had an uphill grade; when I used to drive an automatic I don't really care, the car just goes when the throttle goes down. Here, I have to pay so much attention to everything. Must say I've made a few mistakes like start in 2nd gear lol.

The convertible top
I'm 184cm, and the car feels just right for me with the top up. Not too closed in, and I still have headspace. The seating position is really low; my eye line is just under the door handle of some vehicles. In addition, the windshield frame just perfectly blocks my vision of the lights if I'm the first vehicle. It's a bit annoying as I have to crane my head under to make sure I can see the green light in time.

The blind spots with the top up are also pretty bad. With properly adjusted mirrors it's livable - unlike regular passenger cars where I can check the blindspots without my shoulder blades leaving the seat, I need to turn my upper body a bit more to properly check them.

Now, with the top down, the situation is greatly improved, but still not perfect. When I check to my left it's great as there's nothing in the way. No B pillar, nada :P Checking the right though, the passenger roll hoops do obscure my vision a bit. Pretty sure it would hide a Caterham there!

Backing up is also not ideal. Unlike a regular passenger car where you'd look downwards out your rear window, I'm sitting really low in  the Miata, and even with my height I'm really, at best, just looking over the boot. It gets really sketchy when I'm reversing up hill and I have to do a reverse hillstart lol!

Even though it's winter here in Vancouver, I've seen and read so many other Miata drivers who drive top down with the car, and it does it really well. With the top down, windows up and the heater on, it's surprisingly comfortable. The heater generates a surprising amount of heat, and the vents can be aimed at my hands where it seems to get cold first.

Apart from that, thanks to my height, my hair goes awry in the wind. But, I bought a golf visor and that worked out great. The visor keeps the sun out of the way, and I can still feel the breeze without looking like a Pantene commercial gone wrong.

One final thing, fuel economy isn't as good with the top down, so I read. So perhaps I should drive more top up if I want to improve my fuel economy lol.

I wish I can tell you this car drives on a knife edge and takes corners exceeding 2Gs, but hey, I've only been driving on my own for barely 4 months, and it's mostly city driving. In addition, I don't really have any other cars to compare it against. What I can say is, on the highway I need to give a tiny bit more steering input than say, Mazda 3/Prius/Honda Fit. Just a bit. In terms of the steering feel, it's great. It's not like a prius or honda fit where it's pretty light, it's a good sort of heavy that's not tiring. It's in between say a Scion FR-S (feels really heavy, and I could feel it after I returned the car!) and Mazda 3 (It's been a while since I drove a 3, but I remember it having a good weight as well).

I guess I might as well slot in a mention to some upgraded components on the GS trim - namely the torsen lsd and bilstein shocks. I don't really care about the shocks, as I would probably upgrade them once I get to grips with the car. The lsd though, sounds great in theory - it splits torque, so both wheels get drive. Unless one of the wheels lift, then it acts as an open diff, or so I understand.

And so that we're on the same page, this car has a FR layout - front engine, rear wheel drive.

The ride is surprisingly comfortable. I thought the more sporty suspension would be harsh, but I found it otherwise. The damping appears to match the way I take bumps, and it goes over it without the car feeling underdamped. Under heavy braking there's a fair bit of dive, so I've learnt to modulate the brakes and keep a greater follow distance.

Sidetrack - tires
As mentioned above, the car came with 225/45R17 Michelin Pilot Sport AS3 tires. While I won't comment on the handling as I have nothing to compare against, I was very surprised that this tire did not come with a M+S or snowflake symbol as I've seen videos of people driving in snow, and the marketing for their newer AS3+ goes on about better snow performance.

The M+S or Snowflake is required between October and March in BC when travelling further into the province. I'll definitely be getting some winter shoes for my mx5 so I can head up the Sea To Sky Highway for some sightseeing :)

Update 12th Feb 2019
About -1 degrees C outside, wanted to do my first ever refueling run. And since I still have the Pilot Sport AS3, I thought it would be good to see how the tires performed in Vancouver's "snowmageddon".  Outside my apartment complex, is a somewhat steep upward slope. With momentum, I managed to get up the slope but... there is a stop sign... on an incline. And with that, I could not get any more forward traction XD Thankfully, the tires are good enough to hold the car on the slope with no problems, but trying my usual hill starts... nope. Can't do it. The tires would spin and my tail wobbled and started to drift into the curb. Uh oh. Thankfully there were no cars behind me, and I just reversed back into the parking garage. Bleh. Can't wait to get my winters.

Update 13th Feb 2019
We had a clear blue day in Vancouver, and most of the slush had cleared off. I took off the same uphill tonight with zero problems even thought it was cold and wet. Upon entering North Vancouver though, I had to drive through several uncleared lanes and parking lots. I had my reservations, but as I was on a one-way street I had no choice but to soldier on. The AS3s did perfectly fine going over the white snow, I even had to start on a gentle incline. While it felt a bit squirmy on the rear, it never felt like it was going to fishtail. I do these these tires are pretty solid for most conditions, except for the one important one in Vancouver: cold icy slush.

The cabin is quite rumbly with the top up, I have no idea why. Probably, to keep the car light, there's not as much insulation. Could be my tires as well. I only really notice this when I'm driving on the highway - most of the time, I'm too focused on the road and shifting.

With the top down, it's louder - especially when driving besides trucks and semis, but the rumbly experience is gone. And what's better, I can hear the very distinct *snick* of the shifter. It is so very satisfying to hear to it shift, it's pretty much worth it to drive with the top down on a cold day.

The GS trim comes with cloth seats. Which is exactly what I want, as I don't want to deal with leather. Bleh. The leather seats in the GT trim does come with heated seats, something folks in colder weather conditions might like to have.

Out of the few brands of cars I've drive, I found I fit Mazda seats the best. The Mazda 3's seats are great, and the MX5's are great too, but while the former is very easy to get in, the MX5 I have to almost fall into the seat as it's that low.

There are only manual adjustments, which is great - weight savings!

Now, the passenger side looks to have similar seats, but there's significantly less legroom. I haven't gone on long trips, but the space on the driver side is good. The passenger side though... I feel a bit... tight. Can't stretch out the legs.

It's a tiny car. The glove box is reasonably sized, and there are 4 cup holders, one on each door, and two in the center armrest. There's also a storage bay between the seats, but it's pretty small, and awkwardly sized, no idea what I'm going to use it for at the moment.

The boot is tiny for sure. For me though, I'm using it to haul roadside supplies - a tire plug kit, a screwdriver, a portable jump start battery. The right corner of the boot also has the tire jack. I planning to go on long road trips with this car, so I think I might need to get a spare, some emergency triangles, a first aid kid, fire extinguisher etc etc.

Unlike the soft top mx5, there are no storage behind the seats - that's taken up by the hard top.

It's a tiny car. Last I checked, the MX5's wheelbase is smaller than a Mazda 2, and that car's pretty compact. Every time I see my Miata parked in the stalls, I find it hilarious that there's so much space around it.

On the road, I can leave more space on the right when passing cyclists. I haven't yet encountered any issues, but it is a small car. Not as small as a Fortwo or kei car for sure, but it's more or less a step up from a motorcycle. Add to the fact that it's so low, bigger vehicles might not see it in their blindspot.

I'm always keeping an eye on large SUVs that don't always keep to their lanes in turns, and I try to use my speed (ha!) to get ahead of semis.

There's cruise control and an aux jack. I can play CDs if I didn't use one of those cd player handphone mounts. It doesn't even have those beeping backup sensors lol. This is why I'm attracted to the car, there are a few safety features, like side and front airbags, and the car is designed to more modern crash standards. Keeping it simple.

A backup camera would be nice, but I'm a bit too lazy to wire one up. And where would I put the display? I see some folks replace the stock headunit with a high-tech pioneer double din. But yeah. Laaaazy.

The speakers in the GS are nothing to write home about. There is a distinct lack of bass, but the mids and highs are alright. I like to play music while detailing my car, and the kicks just don't have the same impact, but eh. My car is for driving.

Side note: I use a smartphone with google maps to navigate areas I'm not familiar with. The dashboard is curvy and most of it has a pebbled texture, so it's difficult to use a phone suction mount. There are some suction mounts with "gel" pads but these seem like more of a semi-permanent solution and I don't want to mar the finish of the plastic. I ended up getting a cd mount, and it worked quite well.

Why the 2013 MX5
Primarily, it boils down to budget, running costs/maintenance and safety.

Budget wise, I'd love to get a newer car. The ND Miata or Fiat 124 would be great. While used prices for 2016 models are still quite high, it's doable. But the problem is, insurance. My ICBC insurance is crazy high as a new driver, and I only count as having one year of driving experience, so only 5% off my insurance. The ND or 124 would be far to expensive to justify as I don't daily drive. There's also the fact that I'm a new driver, and this will be my first car. I could afford a newer ND or 124... but if I damage it... ouch!

Running costs and maintenance wise, the ND is the obvious winner. The car's newer, smaller, lighter, and the new engine has crazy good fuel economy. I'm slightly regretful of that. The NC is pretty old and has been in production for a decade. But, because of this, the later model years have had the bugs worked out and in general, it seems like a very solid car with excellent reliability.

As much as I'd love to own a NA or NB Miata, they are over a decade old, with some of them about 30 years old. Rust can be an issue with these cars. If I had my own garage, I might've gone with the NA, because, popup headlights.

But I live in an apartment with a parking spot, so I can do little more than clean my car :-/

The safety aspect is also important. Newer cars have more safety features, and while I think the newer ND's safety features are slightly over the top, I think the NCs are just perfect. I would really like to have a parking camera, but I'll deal with that when I really need it. For now, I think the NC is great for what it is.

I'm looking forward to summer!